Zen On Dirt


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Enjoying the Winter Park high country

We’re coming up on the time to leave Colorado for the year. I foresee this happening around the weekend if everything lines up. We’re also coming up on our 6-months-on-the-road-iversery. Through a combination of endless nights of camping, the graciousness of my parents to let us squat in their condo in Winter Park, visits to Scott’s parents in Salt Lake, and various friends who’ve housed us and let us rinse weeks of accumulated grime off in their showers, the only hotel rooms we’ve paid for this summer were during our our Oregon bikepacking trip, which three of the five nights were work related and Scott needing reliable Internet.

How’d we pull it off? A $250 dollar REI tent that we bought on a whim before leaving SLC back in May for our trip to Washington.

But this is all a tangent. Really, where I wanted to go with this stream of thought was that I really wanted to get all of our ‘summer on the road’ written down before we pointed our van south to AZ and started the ‘winter’ portion of our year.

So we find ourselves in Winter Park in the final third of September. I needed to go to Boulder to get a cavity filled, another filling replaced, and my two root canals from when I crashed my bike and landed on my face reinforced. I guess after three years of no dental care…that’s not so bad, but Ouch.

We parked ourselves in Winter Park, figuring that tent camping season was over. Remember, we don’t do cold. Luckily, the leaves were going off. Peak season.

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Two years ago, when spending fall in Salida, an early winter storm shut the high country down in September. It was cold, and windy, and caused a fear of early-seasons-end in Scott. ‘It could snow any time’ was our basic ideology. ‘Run with the good weather!’

We spent one morning trying to deliver trail magic to two CDT-ish section hikers who we’d surmised from an Instagram feed were in the area. Having no idea how long distances took to cover on foot, we ended up missing them by a handful of hours.

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We did get to see a cute pine marten.

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And a moose on the drive back down.

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We’ve seen moose nearly every time we’ve gone outside, but this guy was exceptionally big.

Back when we were motivated little bikepackers, we envisioned a trip where we’d ride Jones Pass/CDT over to Grays and Torreys, the two nearest 14k+ peaks in the area, camp, climb the peaks, and then ride back via Empire Pass and Lewis’ Sweet Shop. Then it got cold. Cold and camping at 12k isn’t our cup of tea, but we still wanted to do the ride.

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Years ago, this was my first introduction to truly high country riding.

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I learned that hike-a-bike was just part of the deal.

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Apparently, I’ve gotten better at hike-a-bike, because it really wasn’t so bad this time around.

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The weather was nothing short of perfect. Minimal wind. Minimal clouds.

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Is this trail for real? Definitely one of the best bike-friendly-ish parts of the CDT.

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My first spring steeps ski line was off of The Citadel in the background of this next photo. There may be some part of me that’s missing big peak spring skiing and may have to make some of it happen this next year. Alpine starts…not missing those so much.

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A fast and surprisingly ridable descent down Herman Gulch had us poking around in the weeds trying to find the CDT on the other side of the highway. We ended up having to pull out the Ley maps from Scott’s phone to learn that the trail goes ‘seemingly the wrong way west’ before turning into a paved bikepath that parallels I-70 all the way to Georgetown.

Then a quick little up and over Empire Pass…

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Only to find Lewis’ Sweet Shop was operating under mud-season hours…and closed. It was nothing short of devastating. Still, we probably felt better pedaling the 7 miles back on the highway without giant milkshakes and french fries in our bellies.

But still…

It hadn’t snowed yet and temperatures were still unseasonably warm. And then there was the lunar eclipse/supermoon/end of the world thing going.

‘Let’s go watch it from Rollins Pass!’ I declared. I often have hair brained ideas that I don’t actually expect Scott to agree to, but he seemed as excited as I was.

Plus, neither of us had ridden up to the top of Rollins this season.

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It’s sort of one of those must-do classics if for nothing else but the view.

We’d also never hiked to Devils Thumb, so we might as well combine the two trips into one.

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We hiked along the CDT with huge views of either side of the divide, the setting sun over Grand Valley to the west, and Boulder with all of it’s little mountains to the east. Then Kansas even farther to the east.

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We stopped to eat pizza overlooking the Thumb, declaring that if the world did indeed end, it was a fine last meal to have. Better than fine, actually.

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The light got better and better as the sun dipped lower and lower.

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‘You know when we’re sitting in the condo and oohing and ahhing the last light on the Divide? I think we’re in that now.’

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Yes. We were very much in it.

We watched the eclipse from the comfort of my sleeping bag that I’d hauled up, and when the moon was fully covered, we began our descent on trails. By the time we made it back down the valley and up the hill of doom, the moon had regained its full brilliance and lights were no longer needed.

We were a little tired after that, so we spent some time looking at birds.

Brown creepers are my favorite. They seem to be as happy hanging out upside down on the trunk of a tree as right side up. They crawl up one trunk of a tree, then dive-bomb to the base of the next one and repeat endlessly until the flock of chickadees they’re hanging out with flies off.

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By this time, we’d made plans to meet friends in Salida for the weekend. But we had a slight problem in that the radiator in the van decided that it was finally time to die. To the shop it went and we were faced with a few extra days of snow-free time in Winter Park.

When the call came from the shop that the car was ready, we decided to take the long way there. First, climb up Fools Creek Road. We were going for the Strava KOM before we came to this roadblock.

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They stared. We stared.

‘I guess if they charge, you’re supposed to get behind a tree to avoid getting trampled.’ Scott said.

‘You don’t think we could out ride them going down this road?’

‘No.’

‘Oh. I’ll go for the tree then.’

Eventually, they went up the road, and when we caught them around the next switchback again, they scampered off into the woods. All this would have been fine if we weren’t on a time schedule trying to get to the shop in Fraser by closing time at 5pm.

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It’s hard to hurry when above treeline.

Our goal was a sheepherder monument that was erected in honor of a herder who died during a snow storm. We marveled at our ability to name so many of the mountains and drainages from our perch.

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I think we’ve gotten around this summer.

Back at the bikes at the Wilderness boundary, trails took us most of the way to Fraser where we arrived with nearly half an hour to spare. Half an hour later, we were back home with a healthy van, tired legs, and a large pizza from Elevations in our lap. Life was good.

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Special rides in special places

Scott and I were riding in Salida last week revisiting a trail where I had knocked my teeth out a few years prior. ‘Who was on that ride?’ we asked. ‘What year was that?’

We ended up not being able to come to a consensus on it while we were riding. ‘We’ll check the blogs when we get back,’ we decided.

It was sort of a kick in the ass to try to get caught up here. Not necessarily because I have a great story to tell, and I do generally, when I’m caught up, try to tell a somewhat entertaining story, but because memories fade, blend, get distorted over time, and I want to have somewhat of a documentation of things that I got up to.

So where were we? Waking up in Salida.

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In general, Scott’s a better morning sleeper than I am, so I often find myself up watching the sunrise while he snoozes. There’s something about the briefness of a sunrise and sunset, of the knowledge that no two will ever be alike, and that there’s no way to really hold on to it, that I love. Our first morning, and actually several mornings, held storms in the distance and provided a good excuse to not engage in any large adventures.

This was good because we were actually fairly tired from our exercise indulgences. Much time was spent at Cafe Dawn and the library, clicking away at keyboards.

We did get out to ride North Backbone and Cottonwood. It’s our one ‘must-do’ ride whenever we visit Salida.

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We also visited friends at Absolute Bikes, got me a new big chainring, acquainted ourselves with Elevation Brewing complements of Tom, and in general, loitered around town.

We also made plans with Rachael and Jefe over in Gunnison. Dinner and a ride?

But first, it would have been sinful to drive over Monarch Pass without riding the Crest. We hadn’t ridden it all summer, and it seems sort of wrong to pass over a trail that people travel from all over the world to ride when you drive right by it.

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But we didn’t want to shuttle it, and we didn’t want to do the standard ‘ride to Marshall pass and ride back’ day. ‘Let’s climb a mountain!’

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Mt Ouray is the southern most big peak in the Sawatch Range. At 30 feet shy of 14k, it was originally surveyed and designated a 14er. Then when it was remeasured, it was demoted. Sort of like Pluto.

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Either way, we’d been looking at it from our campsite all week, and it seemed like as good of an objective as any.

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Ride out. Climb peak. Have a lunch date. Reverse steps 1 & 2.

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Ridgelines. Endless ridgelines.

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We made it back down with plenty of time to spare to drive down valley and into Gunni for dinner.

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The next day, we took the Gunni locals on a ride in Crested Butte that neither of them had been on. We found this to be a terrible offense.

First step was to head up valley.

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And then commence climbing.

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And a little more.

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And more.

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The top! Well, the top of the easy part.

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Then came the technical hike-a-bike.

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What’s the point of all this climbing? This:

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And this:

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And this:

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A long descent took us straight back to Teo Tamale for burritos. It really was nothing short of a perfect day. Since it was Vinotok weekend, a weekend that I made a point of exiting town for when I lived there, we weren’t too tempted to stick around for long. A frigid night of camping sealed the deal. Time to get out of the valley.

The plan was the Maroon Bells 4-pass Loop, so we headed to Aspen via the Crystal Hot Springs only to find every campground full. As we got farther and farther from Aspen over Indy Pass, our hopes sunk. We didn’t want to have to drive all the way back in the morning. There may have been some grumpies exchanged.

‘Screw it,’ we said. It was cold camping in Leadville. We were tired. Time to head back to Winter Park so that I could get to Boulder for a dentist appointment later in the week. Tent camping season may be done, or so we thought.

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Luckily, the leaves in Winter Park weren’t done quite yet. Until the snow flew, we knew, we’d keep playing.


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Back on the Colorado road

There’s nothing quite like Colorado in the summer time. No, I take that back. There’s nothing quite like being on the road. In Colorado. In the summertime.

Winter Park is great. It really is. We get a roof over our head. A comfortable bed. Easy access to the Front Range for Adulting. Plenty of day trips straight from the door. Reliable Internet. Beauty in every direction.

But I’m not very good at staying still. I’m pretty much the worst.

Sarah and I had been trying to set up a play-date for weeks when we finally got ahold of each other. In the words of Semi-Rad.com, it was time to make plans, not resolutions. Something big, but not epic. Beautiful, but not excessively popular. On dirt. On bikes. Plus, it had to be somewhere where Scott could go play on his own, because I had no intention on going right back to Winter Park.

After much debate, we settled on the Copper Dirty Triangle. Copper Mountain -> Colorado Trail over Searle and Kokomo Pass -> Camp Hale -> Ptarmigan Pass -> Vail Pass -> Bike path down to Copper Mountain. Scott would go either work or push his bike up a 14er. (I’ll give you one guess which option he chose)

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Up past the trees. Up past Janet’s Cabin.

At Searle Pass, the resident marmots seemed to have gone to sleep for the year. We overheard someone someone telling their riding partner ‘It just traverses from here. It’s not really worth going past the pass.’

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It just traverses from here. Nothing to see. Nothing to do.

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There are no views. No pieces of amazing trail.

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We joked that we too, should have turned back at the pass.

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But we knew better.

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Over Kokomo, down the trail. Past the waterfall to Camp Hale. Then a long road climb up, which was steeper than I remembered, and a quick little jaunt back to Vail Pass and down the bike path. Beer and chips capped the ride off before heading over the pass to Leadville to meet Scott. He’d chosen the ‘ride the bike up a 14er option.’

We camped just outside of town and said our goodbyes in the morning. Resolutions made for future plans.

Scott and I opted for a morning at the coffee shop before committing to Mt Sherman, another 14er in the area. I might ride, I hedged. I may just walk.

It took one look at the trail snaking up the side of a scree field to solidify my decision. I’ll wait for you a the top if you wait for me at the bottom. 

I put running shoes on and started up.

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I watched Scott push/pedal his way up. Not once did I say, ‘Gosh, I wish I had my bike.’

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The wind turned me around near the top, but it had died down by the time I retraced my steps to Scott. Up we go again.

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The summit was downright pleasant and only a few stupid-strong gusts of wind hit us on the way down. Scott rode. I walked. We were both as happy as could be.

In town, we finally got pizza at Mountain Pies after being turned away the day prior due to a line out the door. We made camp up Half Moon Creek, planning a lazy day in the morning.

Our bottles froze overnight, making for a brisk morning of getting ready and riding. Easy ride, we decided, then on to warmer climates. We don’t do cold.

The section of Colorado Trail from Half Moon campground at the base of Elbert to Twin Lakes is some of the most spectacular trail in the state in terms of Whee! Fun!-ness.

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While the leaves weren’t quite in their prime yet, we weren’t going to complain.

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We even ran into an old friend from my collegiate days of racing. She’d just ridden Mt. Elbert and was still bundled up from the long descent. She’d also just finished touring the CT, and I’d been meaning to get in touch with her to see how it was. Somehow, giving someone some FaceBook ‘likes’ just isn’t the same. So it was good to run into each other face-to-face, even if it was only for 5 minutes. We made some resolutions to ride when she moved back to CO. Hopefully the resolution turns into concrete plans.

We made it back in just over three hours. Easy ride…standard procedure.

On to Buena Vista for dinner with Kep, and further south to the Heart of Colorado, Salida! We set up camp in the dark and passed out fast. When the sun came up the next morning, we woke to this:

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The road. I love being on the road.